Step Family Adoptions
Stepfamily in the context of adoption generally refers to families formed when the birth mother of a child marries/co-habits with a partner who is not the birth parent of that child, and the child is living with this couple.
Applications are made in these cases so that the birth parent’s spouse/partner can establish legal rights in respect of the child within the family unit. This also ensures the child’s inheritance rights within the family. The making of an adoption order in these cases involves the birth parent giving up sole legal rights in respect of the child and, with his or her spouse/partner, taking on joint legal rights, responsibilities, and guardianship in respect of the child.
A child cannot be adopted once they turn 18 years of age. The adoption process can take a long time so the application should be made before the child turns 16.
In order to begin the adoption process, you will need to get in touch with your local adoption office of Tusla- The Child and Family Agency. The contact details for the local offices can be found here.
There are two strands to a stepparent/stepfamily adoption:
1) Assessment of the applicant
2) Consultation with birth parents
1) Assessment of the applicant
Just like domestic and intercountry adoption, the purpose of a stepparent adoption assessment is to establish the suitability of the prospective adoptive parents to adopt a child. The difference being that with stepparent adoptions the child is an identified child known to the applicant. The assessment process gives applicants an opportunity to discuss the adoption and what it means to you. It is designed to help you learn and think about what you have to offer the child you have applied to adopt. It facilitates you to identify your own strengths and skills which will help you to care for him/her/them.
Interviews are conducted in your home and/or at our offices or the offices of local Tusla services. Your social worker will decide suitable times and dates with you. This may require that you take some time off work. A letter can be written to your employer giving details of the interviews you are required to attend so that you do not have to take these days as annual leave. The assessment generally involves meeting you for approximately 4-6 interviews, although this can vary depending on your individual circumstances. As part of the assessment your Social Worker will also need to meet with the child’s legal guardian/s/birth parents, any other children or adults in the household, any of the applicants children from previous relationships, any ex -partners with whom the applicant has had children with and any other persons whom the Social Worker deems relevant or essential to the assessment.
As with intercountry and domestic adoption, interviews will cover a number of topics which impact on your suitability to become an adopted parent. For example, we will explore your own childhood experiences and how these have influenced you. As many of our early experiences affect how we respond to situations as adults we will reflect on these with you and how they may impact on your parenting and the additional demands of an adopted child. We will discuss with you and your partner how you relate to one another and how you resolve difficulties when they arise. The interviews will also look at your motivation to adopt and why you have decided that adoption is right for you at this time.
Other key areas that will be explored with you will include the complex range of issues associated with adoption, such as identity development and the importance of the family of origin. Adopted children have a need to know about their birth family and should be encouraged to ask questions and helped to understand difficult issues. It will be important that you consider how you can support the child to continue to feel a connection to their original family and/or birth parent.
With stepparent adoptions, there is an emphasis on exploring your relationship with the child subject of the adoption. You will be asked to demonstrate your knowledge of the child and describe the dynamics of your relationship with him or her. The Assessing Social Worker may ask questions about how you relate to the child in certain situations and how involved you are in their day to day lives. As part of the assessment, you will also need to consider the resources and supports that are available to you and how they can be accessed. You will need to be able to demonstrate that you have the ability to provide for the child now and into the future in every way, including financially.
Another aspect to the assessment is meeting with the child’s resident guardian/birth parent which is usually the birth mother. Further discussion in relation to this can be found below.
What happens Next?
When your assessment has been completed your social worker will write a report. This is discussed with the Principal Social worker of Pact before a recommendation is made about your eligibility and suitability.
Your report is then forwarded to an Adoption Committee of Tusla Child and Family Agency which considers it and makes a recommendation.
If the Adoption Committee endorse your application , your assessment report and supporting documentation are then submitted to the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI).
Your documentation and your assessment is reviewed by the administration and Social work team at the AAI and, if satisfactory, a Declaration of Eligibility and Suitability to Adopt is granted.
2) Consultation with birth parents
Consultation with resident birth parent
Another aspect to the assessment is meeting with the child’s resident birth parent which is usually the birth mother. It is important to note that the birth mother is not being assessed; it is the applicant only who is the subject of the assessment however the birth mother must be consulted as part of the assessment process. The purpose of consulting with the birth mother is;
- To ascertain what is known about the child’s birth father
- To establish their full, free, informed consent or approval to the adoption
- Assist in establishing that this adoption is in the best interests of the child.
- Assist in making a finding as to the applicant’s Eligibility and Suitability to adopt
There are a number of forms that must be completed by the birth mother in the presence of a solicitor/commissioner of oaths and what is known as an authorised person . These forms are to ensure that the birth mum fully understands the legal implications of the adoption and is giving full, free, informed consent. The assessing social worker will provide guidance and support in relation to this aspect of the assessment.
Consultation with non-resident birth parent
Where a child is being adopted by the birth mother’s husband or partner (this is the case in most stepparent applications), if the birth father is a legal guardian of the child, his consent is required before the adoption can proceed. If he gives his consent to the adoption, the guardianship order must be discharged before the adoption can proceed. If he does not consent to the adoption, it cannot proceed but it is open to the birth mother to apply to the
District Court to have the guardianship order discharged.
Where the birth father of the child is not a legal guardian, he is entitled to be notified and consulted about the application for adoption. This may result in a number of outcomes including:
(i) The birth father is notified and has no objection.
(ii) The birth father is notified and does object – he may or may not decide to make an application to the District Court for a guardianship order.
(iii) The birth father is identified but cannot be located.
(iv) The birth father cannot be identified and therefore cannot be notified – in this circumstance the Adoption Authority must obtain an order from the High Court to allow an adoption order to be made without consultation of the birth father.
(v) Circumstances are such that it is deemed inappropriate to notify the birth father if he is known – in this circumstance the Adoption Authority must obtain an order from the High Court to allow an adoption order to be made without consultation of the birth father.
(vi) The birth father is deceased. In this case the birth father cannot be notified or consulted. The birth father’s death certificate and evidence linking him to the child is required before the application can proceed.
Where an application has been made to court, either by the parties to the adoption or by the Adoption Authority, the adoption application is suspended until the court proceedings are finalised.
When the consent and or notification of the birth father issue have been dealt with appropriately the application can proceed.
Birth father and his wife/partner adopting
Where a child is being adopted by their birth father’s wife or partner, the consent of the birth mother is required in order to proceed as she is a legal guardian of the child.
If the birth mother is not consenting to the adoption the application cannot proceed.
Where the birth mother is deceased her death certificate will be required for the application to proceed.